Kira Leigh‘s website comes with a warning: “Many pieces deal directly with the symptoms and sisters of depression and are therefore triggering.” While on the surface, Leigh’s work may seem fun and fantastical, it is also highly personal and psychological, addressing subjects of anxiety, body dysmorphia, life obstacles, and feminist issues. Taking inspiration from gaming culture, Leigh turns the escapist pastime on its head, creating a “surreal fictional gaming universe” in which she courageously battles her real-life demons through “a self-insert mage/ alchemist” named KUURA THE STRANGE. The result is a magical mystery tour through Leigh’s psyche, where the cute meets the grotesque in the form of distorted human figures and oozing intestinal forms, turning the often difficult parts of human experience into captivating, colorful adventures.
Derek Albeck has a magical way of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary. Using only pencils, a bit of paint, and masterfully honed traditional portrait techniques, Albeck creates pieces that are anything but traditional.
Frequently working from snapshots taken in his daily life, Albeck amplifies the expressions and motions of his subjects, revealing the completely comfortable, unguarded, and usually hilariously unflattering parts of ourselves that manifest most intensely in candid photos taken seconds too soon, or when chemically compromised. In fact, much of Albeck’s work is characterized by a sort of “magic brownie effect,” turning mundane, common symbols, people, and objects into mesmerizing sources of irresistible humor. His eye for details — like the logo on a beer can, the crinkle of a flag, or the cover of a book by Aleister Crowley – capture escapist fantasies, moments of carefree bliss and rebellion that appear at once precious but fleeting, intensely personal but universally familiar. In Albeck’s world, a pile of dirty laundry becomes an eerily expressive smiley face, a cheeky rainbow forms the frown of an aptly titled “Sad Murderer,” and a skull with hypnotic eyes, comprised of the floating heads of the happiest, goofiest people you’ve ever seen, leaves you giggling in a trance-like state for hours. This happiness proves contagious as you find yourself smiling back at the bearded, flannel-clad man collapsed in a joyful stupor beneath a rainbow in a drawing called “Have a Great Day Forever.” And with an attitude that makes us want to do just that, Albeck’s work provides a fresh viewpoint with which to view, and laugh at, everyday life.
If ever a designer could be labeled Cult Couture, Aoi Kotsuhiroi would be it. Kotsuhiroi’s “body objects” blur the line between fashion and fine art, with each handmade, one-of-a-kind piece embodying a sense of primal energy, like relics of an ancient gothic warrior tribe. Through her juxtaposition of precious materials like cherry tree wood, phantom crystals, and pit-fired porcelain with once living, borderline grotesque elements like human and horse hair, lacquered horns, and elephant, buffalo, and crocodile leathers, Kotsuhiroi breathes animalistic life into her wearable sculptures, imbuing the wearer with a spirit of strength, mystery, and a little bit of danger. Her most recent collection, entitled “Exotic Regrets,” is a post-apocalyptic masterpiece, featuring talon-shaped rings that could double as primitive weapons in an end of the world showdown, and a pair of sinewy, scorpion-like shoes which give new meaning to the term “killer heels.”
This week, The Shooting Gallery in San Francisco debuted “Ritual,” a solo exhibit by painter Charmaine Olivia. For “Ritual,” Olivia shrouds her signature female portraits with a veil of mysticism and magic, citing astrology, druidism, and the goddesses of ancient Greek mythology as inspirations. The beautifully haunting, almost spectral quality of Olivia’s female subjects is a result of her signature blend of realism and fantasy. While maintaining intensely realistic elements, many of the women are stripped down to their innermost layers, and further, into the paintings themselves, as translucent skin drips into bare bones, and tousled tresses fade into abstracted lines, revealing the grain of the wood surface beneath. “Ritual” presents these portraits as altars, flanked with offerings of flowers, candles, bones, and bottles, transforming the gallery into a place of worship, inviting us all to partake in a sacred ceremony to Olivia’s dreamy deities. View the show at The Shooting Gallery until February 4.